Cribs and floor beds offer unique benefits for parents and their children. Cribs provide the feeling of security that many parents want for their kids, while floor beds offer a sense of independence that children enjoy. But between cribs and floor beds, which is better for kids?
Whether your child should sleep in a crib or a floor bed is a personal choice based on what you believe is best. A crib is ideal if you’re concerned about safety and containment. If you are more interested in your child’s freedom to explore, then consider a floor bed.
For a soon-to-be or new parent who wants to do the right thing for the baby, this might be a hot topic in the nursery. Read on for information that will help you to make the best baby bed decision for your family without anyone losing sleep over it.
Table of Contents
Pros and Cons of Using a Crib
Wanting to create a secure and cozy spot for babies is just a natural thing to do. Babies are so vulnerable to intentional and unintentional harm that parents innately want to do what they can to protect their offspring.
Since ancient times, parents have used baskets, boxes, and other containers to give their babies a safe place to sleep and play—places where they can’t get out and where they’re sheltered from things getting in. A crib is designed to do just that.
The Benefits of a Using a Crib
Most of us in Western cultures slept in cribs as children and have used them for our own children. Putting a baby or toddler in a crib for the first couple of years is the most widely used sleeping arrangement, both now and in the past. A lot of people aren’t even aware that there are other options.
Keeping a child safe from the newborn stage onward is a parent’s main concern. A crib offers several benefits for the baby and his parents and is an excellent choice to address that concern.
A Crib is a Safe Place for Baby to Sleep
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that babies be placed on a firm sleeping surface, specifically a crib, bassinet, or portable crib that meets the standards established by the Consumer Products Safety Commission (CPSC).
Early cribs did provide a warm place for a baby to sleep. However, until the 1970s, crib design left a lot to be desired. The sides weren’t tall enough, the slats were too far apart, the mattress was too soft…the list goes on. That’s when experts decided that too many babies had died because of unsafe crib design and use.
Cribs are designed with four high sides that prevent a baby from falling out while asleep. Since 1974, modern cribs have been required to meet strict safety standards targeted to reduce injuries and deaths from falls, strangulations, and suffocation.
Current specifications that all new cribs must follow include:
- There must be a maximum distance of 2 ⅜ inches between the crib slats to prevent a baby from getting his head stuck. Slats must be made of sturdy material.
- The crib mattress must follow a standardized size and be firmly supported to fit properly within the crib frame without wiggling or shifting. This is to prevent a child from getting caught between the mattress and frame.
- The height from the top of the rail to the mattress support on the lowest level should be 26 inches so that children cannot fall out.
- There is to be no hardware on the inside of the crib.
- Drop latches must be sturdy.
- Crib frame surfaces should be smooth and splinterless.
- Each crib must contain detailed assembly instructions and appropriate warning labels.
- As of 2010, cribs with drop-down sides can no longer be made or sold.
The general rule of thumb is to never use a crib that’s over ten years old unless you can modify it to fit current safety standards. If there’s an heirloom or antique crib that family tradition expects you to use, you should take every precaution to ensure that it is updated to meet these standards. Older cribs have wider gaps between the slats and the mattress may not fit snugly nor leave enough height from the top rail.
Rails on all four sides, along with a firm and tight-fitting mattress and sheet, provide a safe place for a baby to sleep.
A Crib Keeps a Baby in Place
Because of the rails on all sides, a baby, especially those younger than 18 months to 2 years, cannot get out of a crib and wander around the room or house. Once you put them in the crib for nap or bedtime, they’re “stuck” until someone comes to get them.
For parents, this kind of containment offers peace of mind. It’s comforting to know that your little one can’t get into any dangerous situations like playing with electrical outlets or pulling a shelf or dresser over on top of them.
Without a crib, your child could be up exploring who knows where at 3 a.m. while you are snoozing away unaware.
Cribs also provide a containment area if you need to do something nearby without any “assistance” from your crawler or toddler. Some kids that age hate the vacuum cleaner, for example, and may feel safer in their crib. Plus, they won’t get in your way or pull out toys while you’re trying to clear the floor.
Some Cribs Convert to Bigger Beds
Back in the day, once a child outgrew their crib, the crib went to the attic or basement for storage. Not so anymore. Many cribs now are designed to convert to a toddler bed, a daybed, or a twin or full-size bed when the time comes.
Using a convertible crib allows parents to save money. There’s no need to buy additional furniture when the baby outgrows the crib. And it already matches the rest of the nursery furniture, so you won’t have to change your color scheme or theme to accommodate new furniture.
Babies Learn to Sleep Independently
A crib gives your baby a place to call his own. Rather than falling asleep in a parent’s bed, which is called co-sleeping or bed-sharing, and is highly discouraged for safety reasons, your baby has his own space.
Getting into a bedtime or naptime routine that ends with a drowsy (but not yet asleep) child is the best way for that little one to learn to fall asleep independently. The familiarity of the crib combined with a consistent routine and no escape route means your baby or toddler may embrace the zzz’s with less fuss.
Cribs Heights are Adjustable
Modern cribs are designed so that the mattress height is adjustable depending on the age and mobility of the baby. Newborns can be situated higher in the crib so it’s easier to pick them up and take care of them.
As a baby becomes more mobile, the crib mattress can be lowered to a couple of different positions to keep him from falling or climbing out. Whatever the mattress position, it may be easier on an adult to do what needs to be done for the baby in the crib rather than stooping to floor level.
The Downsides of Using a Crib
There’s really not much downside to using a crib as your baby’s sleeping arrangement. That’s why cribs have been around for hundreds of years in some form or fashion. In fact, the one major downside of a crib can also be seen as a benefit.
A Crib Keeps a Baby in Place
While we’ve established that, overall, this is a good thing for a baby, there can be times when it’s less than convenient for you as a parent.
For younger babies not yet crawling, it’s not an issue, but for those who can crawl and pull themselves up, being in a crib can frustrate them. As soon as they wake up, they may cry and fuss to get attention with the ultimate goal of being picked up.
If you’re following the recommendation to not put any stuffed animals, books, or toys in the crib with them, they have nothing to do or play with when they awake. Babies who are crawling or standing are at an age where they like to stay busy, exploring the world around them.
A sterile, toy-less crib doesn’t offer a child much to explore and interact with, leading to a desire to get out of the crib and head to where their stuff is.
Cuddling is Not as Easy
When a baby needs soothing at night, there’s not much way around it: mom or dad has to go into the nursery and do what they can to comfort their fussy one. Sometimes it’s a quick pat or lullaby, and all is well.
For extended soothing times, tired parents may choose to sit by the crib and stick a hand through the slats to console the baby. If that’s only for a few minutes and the baby settles back down, no problem. However, when a baby continues to need comforting, and someone needs to stay for a while, it can be awkward and tiring to sit or lie down by the crib on the floor for the rest of the night.
Pros and Cons of Floor Beds
While not that common in the West, some cultures in the world have traditionally used floor beds for everyone, including babies, and they were doing it well before modern times and modern parenting ideas. Whatever their reasons, these cultures have found floor beds to be the best solution to nighttime sleep for babies.
The rise of floor beds in Western Europe and the U.S. spring from the Montessori school of thought started in the early 20th century by Maria Montessori, an Italian doctor. This philosophy emphasizes that a child learns best through hands-on exploration, movement, and personal choice.
Extending that idea to the home brought about the use of small beds for children that are low to the floor and without rails. This unrestricted environment allows a young child to explore his surroundings when he wakes up instead of being confined to a crib until an adult arrives.
A floor bed is a broad term for sleeping spots that are not elevated off the ground like a crib is. They can include:
- For children under the age of two, a crib-size mattress sitting directly on the floor
- A box frame 5” – 6” high that will fit a crib-size mattress
- For children older than two, a twin-size mattress sitting directly on the floor
- A box frame 5”-6” high that fits a twin or full-size mattress
- An inflatable mattress that sits directly on the floor
- For newborn to 24 months, a baby nest with low sides
The Benefits of Using a Floor Bed
Depending on your viewpoint and child-rearing philosophy, there are several upsides to choosing a floor bed for your child’s sleeping arrangement. You might be the only parent on the block to give your baby that much freedom, and it will probably generate a lot of neighborly discussion. But if it suits your family, there’s no need to justify your choice.
Babies Can Explore Their Environment
A floor bed gives crawling babies, toddlers, and even older children, the opportunity to move freely about the nursery or bedroom to experience, touch, feel, and read whatever they choose. Even newborns will wiggle and squirm and turn their heads to see what’s around them.
Since there are no sides on a floor bed, a little one who isn’t quite mobile can watch his environment unhindered. Once your baby can crawl around on his own, the whole wide world—or at least his bedroom—is accessible for him to explore.
Floor beds encourage a child to be independent and allow them to be free to move around as much or as little as they want.
Floor Beds Encourage Independent Sleep
The goal is for your baby to self-soothe and put himself back to sleep if he wakes up during a nap or at night. With the freedom to move around and get to books or toys if he’s not yet sleepy, a baby will learn more awareness of when he’s ready to lay down and how much sleep he needs.
In the morning or after a nap, a baby can entertain himself without having to call for mom or dad to get him up. He can wander the room looking at toys or books and may even decide he’s still sleepy. A floor bed allows him to crawl back in bed and sleep some more if he chooses.
Parents can Cuddle with a Child Easily
No matter how much a child sleeps or how easily they go to sleep, there will come a time when your little one needs consoling or comfort at bedtime or during the night. A floor bed offers parents the opportunity to lie down beside a child, giving them a sense of safety and security.
Cribs with rails don’t exactly allow adults to crawl in beside an upset baby or toddler to soothe them back to sleep. With a floor bed, it’s so easy to settle in for a few minutes or the rest of the night and sing a song, read a book, or whatever it takes to calm an upset baby.
Moms who are breastfeeding may find that floor beds are quite convenient since they can recline comfortably to nurse. When the feeding is over, they are right there and can lay the baby down without having to carry them from a rocking chair and risk waking them up by leaning over a crib rail to put them back down.
Floor Beds Save Space
For those in a small apartment where a crib would take up a lot of space, a floor bed offers a convenient way to give your baby somewhere to sleep. If the need arises, the mattress can be leaned against a wall to provide more flexibility.
Parents who might want to use a bassinet for the first few weeks for their newborn may find that a floor bed/nest is a good alternative and space-saver.
A Floor Bed Is Low to the Ground
With a floor bed, there’s no danger that your child will fall out and hurt himself. It doesn’t sit up high on legs like a crib so even if a baby or toddler does happen to roll off, it’s only a few inches to the floor.
If the floor is a hard surface, though, it’s best to put a rug or piece of carpet down beside the floor bed to cushion the area where a child might climb in and out or happen to roll off.
The Downsides of Using a Floor Bed
There are a few cons to using a floor bed with your baby or toddler. However, remember that just because these disadvantages do exist, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t use a floor bed. In fact, some of these cons can be overcome if a floor bed is really what you want for your youngster.
Babies May Fall Out or Roll Off
It’s inevitable that your baby or toddler will roll off a floor bed at least once or twice before they get the hang of staying centered on the mattress. The good thing is that it’s not far to the floor, and you can cushion the “fall” with a thick rug. It may startle them at first, but they won’t get hurt.
Some children even sleep through a roll-off. Parents also report that they find their child in some interesting sleep positions—upper half on the bed, lower half off…or vice versa. Eventually, they’ll figure it out, and roll-offs will happen less and less.
Babies May Not Stay in Bed
Children who follow the Montessori school of thought throughout the day and are given much independence to wander and explore may struggle to dial it back at night or naptime. You may hear the sounds of playing at unacceptable times of the night and wonder what you’ve done.
To discourage play and encourage more sleep, you can remove all but a few toys and books from the child’s room so there are fewer items to distract him from sleepy time. Once the baby figures out he’s played with everything and there’s nothing new to explore, he’ll learn that he might as well sleep.
Are Floor Beds Safe for Babies?
It sounds scary for sure and goes against most expert recommendations, but more and more parents make floor beds work pretty well for their children. Advocates of floor beds argue that the pros outweigh the cons, of course. But the primary question asked by parents is whether or not a floor bed is safe for their baby.
When parents take the proper safety precautions, babies can use a floor bed with no problem.
At What Age Can a Floor Bed be Used for a Baby?
Montessori for Today mentions that most parents who choose floor beds start using them when their baby is between five and ten months old. That’s when a baby begins to roll over, sit up, and be more interested in exploring the world.
The most common age to transition a baby to a floor bed is around two years of age. At that point they are ready to move out of a crib but aren’t quite big enough to get in and out of a regular twin size bed.
Some parents may put a two to three-month-old baby on a floor bed, particularly when it’s beside the parents’ bed. If floor bed safety practices are strictly followed, and parents adjust as their child develops and becomes more mobile, it’s okay to use a floor bed with a baby that young.
Floor Bed Safety Practices
Floor beds are safe as long as the following safety measures are taken to ensure that a baby can’t get into any dangerous situations in the nursery. Also, look beyond the nursery door to see what poses a hazard in the rest of the home if your little one escapes the room.
Inside the Nursery:
- Floor beds or mattresses used without a frame should be placed perpendicular to the wall to be accessible on three sides. Putting the bed with a long side against a wall isn’t safe because a baby can get wedged between the mattress and the wall if they roll that way.
- Build or purchase a well-made floor bed with smooth wood, no splinters, and sturdy hardware if it’s needed.
- Make sure the mattress is firm and not too soft, especially for younger babies.
- Cover the mattress with a snug-fitting sheet only.
- Avoid adding any bed linens like quilts or blankets for babies under age two. Use a sleep sack for added warmth.
- Bookshelves, chest of drawers, dressers, and other heavy furniture should be securely attached to the wall, so there’s no chance of tipping over on a child.
- All electrical outlets should be covered with child-proof inserts.
- All wiring for lamps, sound machines, or any other electrical device should be routed where a baby or toddler cannot get to them.
- Avoid using floor-length curtains that a child could try to climb or manage to pull down. A falling curtain rod could cause injury.
- Be sure that the cords on any window blinds are tied up out of the baby’s reach. Most companies now include cleats that can be attached to the window frames to give pull cords a place to be secured.
- ANYTHING small that could present a choking hazard should be removed from the room. This even includes toys that are supposedly age-appropriate. When in doubt, move it out.
- Consider putting door knob covers on the bedroom’s inside doorknob. This will prevent a toddler from opening the bedroom door and wandering the rest of the house. If there is bathroom access from the nursery, cover that door knob as well.
Tip: Before you set up a floor bed arrangement, get down on your hands and knees to crawl around the room at the same eye level as a baby would. You may notice potential hazards from that vantage point in places you never considered.
Outside the Nursery:
- Put door knob covers on all exterior doors.
- For exterior doors that aren’t designed for knob covers, add latches or door chains up high where a toddler cannot reach.
- Install baby gates at the top and bottom of all stairs.
- Install cabinet latches on every lower cabinet door in the kitchen and bathrooms.
- If there are taller bookcases or heavy furniture prone to tipping, attach it to the wall too.
- Keep household chemicals, tools, and power equipment locked up where a wandering toddler can’t go.
At the end of the day (or at naptime), a child is going to sleep on whatever bed arrangement he’s given. Both cribs and floor beds provide comfortable, cozy spots for your little one to snooze. It’s really up to you as a parent to understand what your child needs to get his best sleep.
There are pros and cons to both, but the choice comes down to what’s important to you and your child. For parental peace of mind, the crib is the way to go. For encouraging your child’s independence and exploration, a floor bed can’t be beaten.